Non-Fiction · Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Manhattan by Jennifer Thermes.

Review: Manhattan by Jennifer Thermes

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From millions of years ago, when the island was inhabited by wildlife, to the thriving metropolis we know today, this is the story of Manhattan. It’s geography, it’s history and it’s people. With maps to show how the island would have looked and illustrations of the different eras, this beautiful book is the story of one place through time. 

And what a place. Manhattan isn’t somewhere I have visited, but even so I feel I know its streets. Not only from the photo shows of my sister’s visits but from the multitude of films and television programmes which are set in New York. Before reading this, I knew little of its history, but I recognise so many of the best-known locations. 

Manhattan moves through the earliest settlements, to the American Revolution and then to the Grid Plan of 1811 and the great skyscrapers of the 20th Century. Every era is brought to life through the illustrations, which show not only the place but the people who lived there. History is easier to understand when we realise it is about people like us. Relating to another person’s story makes the past more accessible. 

img_9800The maps are so detailed, and it is fascinating to see how the city built over time, and how different areas were joined together as a result of the grid plan and subway and bridges. With double-page spreads covering different topics, this book manages to provide a detailed account of the area’s growth without overwhelming the reader. There is plenty of breathing space to look at the maps and illustrations. 

Towards the back of the book is a wonderful double-page spread which shows the island in four different eras right next to each other. As I looked over this page, it really seemed to grow before my eyes. There is also a useful timeline which allows the reader to look over the history without reading the whole book. 

As an introduction to or visual history of an area, this is fantastic. The level of detail is impeccable and it is difficult to resist flicking through and comparing the different eras. 

 

Thanks to Abrams Books For Young Readers for my gifted copy of Manhattan. Opinions my own.

Non-Fiction · Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: In Focus … Forests by Libby Walden

Review: In Focus … Forests by Libby Walden

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Earth’s forests are magical places full of wilderness, wonders and wildlife. From the Black Forest in Europe to rainforests and American national parks and the kelp forests below the ocean, they are special places which need to be cared for and preserved. 

Libby Walden has created a beautiful book to do them justice. Every double page spread introduces a new subject, then unfolds to reveal a four-page fact file. As well as introducing different types of forest, the book looks at forest mythology, people who live in the forests and the anatomy of different trees. 

This is one of my favourite illustrated non-fiction titles of the year. It has the right balance of beauty and information and offers different ways into the subject. Its multi-subject approach proves yet again that subjects are interrelated. For example, myths and legends often come from attempts to answer big scientific questions. 

The short sections on each spread make it easy to learn new facts while plants and animals the reader might not have seen are clearly illustrated. I love how the illustrations, although informative, remain eye-catching and attractive to their younger audience. 

Something which I noticed immediately was the child-friendly fonts – a clear, sans-serif font for information with headings in the handwriting font used in many primary schools. Younger children are often asked to learn joined-up handwriting, but this is rarely reflected in the books they read. 

The sort of book which makes learning feel more like an adventure than a task. This is one to treasure. 

 

Thanks to Little Tiger Press for my gifted copy of In Focus … Forests. Opinions my own.

blog tour · Guest Post

Blog Tour: A Witch Come True by James Nicol.

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The Magic Of Maps – author James Nicol talks about the importance of maps in The Apprentice Witch trilogy 

Maps, maps, maps! Who doesn’t love a good map?

When I was a child we had a set of The Lord of The Rings in our house, they were kept on the very important bookshelf alongside a very old bible (we weren’t an especially religious household) some photo albums and some other “leather” bound classics I think my mum and stepdad had bought from a door to door salesman!

I loved those Lord of the Rings books so much, even though I hadn’t (and still haven’t!) read any of them. What I loved about those books was the beautiful maps inside of them, all in black and red ink, they folded out to three times larger than the book themselves and I loved to poor over the map and imagine the places named on it, Mordor, Khand and Near Harad. Imagining my own stories and people that might live in those places. That was always much more exciting and fun than delving into the books for me – and that should have been a clue really!

I also loved drawing and making my own maps as a child, often treasure ones inspired by The Goonies, I loved drawing rivers and hills and forests and again my imagination would burst with the stories that perhaps unfurled in these imagined places. I used tea and coffee to stain them and to make them looked aged and I remember being over the moon when my nana actually shoved one in the oven to make it look really distressed (but don’t try that at home though folks!)

So when I started to write my stories as a young child and teenager I was always thinking about the world they were set in, drawing little snippets of maps or building layouts to give the characters a real place to inhabit, a place to be, a place to live! But this was always on the grand scale – rather like Lord of the Rings.

When I started work on what was to become The Apprentice Witch Trilogy I had a clear idea of this small island Kingdom and the neighbouring Kingdoms across the sea. Hylund, Dannis, Grunea, Veersalnd and The Uris.  That was all fixed in my head from the outset. As the edits and different versions of the story evolved over the months and years of writing, so too did the maps, settings came and went, Arianwyn moved from a tumbledown cottage outside of Lull into the Spellorium (a location that has become a favourite with readers I’m thrilled to say!) and the story became steadily more focused on the odd little town on the edge of the Great Wood that surrounded it, my world was becoming less epic it seemed.

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The original world map for The Apprentice Witch – the Four Kingdoms names didn’t change at all through the various edits and versions of the original story.  The shape of Hylund was inspired by a real island but I now have no idea which one!   

  

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The Original Map of Lull and the surrounding area, Lull was loosely based on the town of Middleham in the Yorkshire Dales, the market place captivated me and seemed perfect for the town I was slowly creating in my imagination. You can even just about see the reference to Arianwyn’s cottage, ‘Kettle Cottage’ – her initial home in Lull before I created the Spellorium which is on Kettle Lane.

Then I realised that one vital map was missing.

Lull!

I needed a map of the town. A Place I was writing about more and more but couldn’t always see clearly in my mind, where was the Spellorium in relation to the Blue Ox, how would Arianwyn get to the Great Wood, where was the river and many other questions. So I drew a scrappy map and pinned this to the noticeboard over my desk and like magic, Lull was a real place, full of homes, businesses, people and most importantly stories!

When it was revealed that the map of Lull was going to be included in A Witch Alone I was over the moon! But I had one evening to pull my scrappy sketch into something that could be translated into a suitable illustration (by brilliant illustrator, David Wardle) to make the print deadline. What he did to turn my scribble into the beautiful illustration is nothing short of magic and I loved it. But having the map feature in the book presented the challenge of having the map “proof read” – i.e does it reflect accurately in the story? Yikes!

Well I’m pleased to say that with the exception of a moving telephone box (I blame vandalism!) and a small pond that had to be magicked up, everything was spot on!

 

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Never in a million years when I was drawing those maps as a small child or pawing over the middle earth map did I ever imagine a book I had written would contain a map of a world I had created. If I could go back in time and tell myself that as a ten-year-old I would, I’d love to see the look on my face!

It is so clear to me now that it was the map that helped to keep my story centred, gave it a heart and focused our attention not on the magic of the story but the people that fill it, their lives. It was the key to creating a place that readers have said they want to go and live in – and as an author what more could you ask for than that!

James Nicol. 

 

Many thanks to James Nicol for your time and wonderful guest post. This is a tremendous insight into how you use maps to develop your work. 

A Witch Come True by James Nicol is out now in paperback (£6.99, Chicken House). 

Find out more at www.chickenhousebooks.com and https://www.jamesnicolbooks.com/.

 

 

 

Non-Fiction · Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Hello World Animals by Nicola Edwards and L’Atelier Cartographik

Review: Hello World Animals by Nicola Edwards and L’Atelier Cartographik

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A lift-the-flap atlas which explores the wildlife by location, teaching readers simultaneously about wildlife and geography. 

The book is a large-format with thick cardboard pages. There is something exciting about holding a book this size. It demands that you settle down and get lost in its pages. Inside are eight double-page spreads: one for each continent and one introductory section.

img_7385The introduction explains that some animals have spread across the world because of their relationship with humans while others are so adaptable they can survive almost anywhere. This was an interesting start because it didn’t shy away from the fact that human activity has had an impact on wildlife. This section also introduces the seven continents, giving a hint about what is coming in the rest of the book. 

Each spread shows the map of one continent. Different animals are located on these maps, with information hidden under flaps. This interactive element will keep readers engaged and guessing what there might be to learn. Flaps also act as a great memory-game when readers are more familiar with the book. Around the maps are different fact files, with topics as varied as camouflage, the life-cycle of a butterfly and environmental crisis. 

Although the format is friendly for readers as young as four, the facts are in-depth enough that this book will satisfy much older readers and it will certainly keep the adults interested. 

A beautiful gift for any lover of wildlife or budding explorer and a wonderful way of learning more about our planet. 

 

Thanks to Little Tiger Press for my copy of Hello World Animals. Opinions my own.

Non-Fiction

Review: Absolutely Everything by Christopher Lloyd.

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Review: Absolutely Everything by Christopher Lloyd.

Do you want to know about everything? Absolutely everything? Earth, Dinosaurs, the past, the present. It’s all covered here. This is the book for children who are hungry for facts. A cross between an encyclopedia and a trivia-book, Absolutely Everything explores any number of subjects. 

This book begins with pre-history and leads to the present day. The sections are not strictly chronological – they cover time periods which slightly overlap. This does away with the common impression that history was divided into neat sections. Historical periods overlap, with the events of one era leading directly to another. Not that this is a history book – it dips into history, science, geography, technology and politics. While this was a fabulous selection, I would have liked to see artistic and literary achievement thrown into the mix. This, of course, is the problem the author faced – there is so much worth covering in a book of this scale – and he has already embarked upon book two. 

Photographs of landscape and historical sources are mixed with illustrations. These bring topics neatly to life and make it possible to visualise things we cannot see such as deep underwater life and historical events. Maps and graphs add detail and show different ways of recording information. 

The tone of each section is conversational, which may appeal to readers who otherwise find fact books daunting. It would be a lovely book to have out in a classroom and it would make a great Christmas present for kids who want to explore the breadth of human knowledge. 

My only other thought was that the time periods are not covered in equal measures – anything pre-1500s is given more space than the modern world. Perhaps that is the charm of this book – rather than being a comprehensive guide to anything, it allows children to figure out what fascinates them and gives them just enough that they want to go in search of more information. 

A real dip-into read which will appeal to the insatiably curious. 

 

Thanks to Laura Smythe PR and What On Earth Books for my copy of Absolutely Everything. Opinions my own.

Non-Fiction · Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Picture Book Review: Once Upon A Raindrop – The Story Of Water by James Carter and Nomoco

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Review: Once Upon A Raindrop – The Story Of Water by James Carter and Nomoco

Our world is so wet. We need water to survive. Venture on a journey through the world of water. Where does water come from and how does it move around our planet? Those questions and more are answered in this beautiful and informative book. 

This book is both informative and poetic. It immerses the reader into the world of water through questions and language, then gently imparts information about the origins of water and the water cycle. Information books for younger readers have come a long way in recent years. There is suddenly an understanding that information needs to come in small bites and that it needs to be presented in interesting and attractive ways to hold the reader’s attention.

img_7100Once Upon A Raindrop is a masterpiece of design. Kazuko Nomoco has produced designs for numerous brands and clients including The Guardian, The Folio Society, Audi and Moschino. I wasn’t the least bit surprised to find she had a background in communications – her designs remind me of the very best infographics. They grab your attention straight away and impart just enough information in one go. 

This is an information book for modern times. 

I love the minimalist colour-palette – different shades of blue and grey are occasionally broken with splashes of colour. The style is impressionistic, with very few lines. 

This would be suitable for children as young as four but would make a lovely gift for any child interested in geography or learning about the water cycle. It would also be a great book to use in art. It would inspire children to think outside the box about how they paint and draw water. 

 

Thanks to Caterpillar Books for my copy of Once Upon A Raindrop. Opinions my own.